So Much Matcha: Exploring Matcha and The Top Matcha Regions in Japan

Beyond beverages, matcha is also used in many other aspects of Japanese food, including Japanese wagashi and even in staples such as buckwheat noodles and mochi.
Matcha, Japan’s most iconic green tea that has attained global popularity. | ©PhotoAC

When you think of Japan, matcha (抹茶) or maccha inevitably comes to mind as one of the nation’s most iconic products, but have you ever where matcha comes from? A stone-ground green tea crafted from shade-grown tea leaves celebrated for its vivid green hue, distinct flavour and myriad of health benefits, matcha is an esteemed green tea in powdered form, loved and cherished by the Japanese for centuries. 

 

The History of Matcha 

Japanese tea ceremonyThe art of preparing powdered green tea was first brought into Japan during the 12th century. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Beyond being merely a trendy beverage, matcha boasts a long and rich history tracing back to the 12th century when it was initially introduced to Japan by Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist monk, who not only brought the tea seeds but also introduced Zen (禅) Buddhist techniques for preparing powdered green tea. 

Following their arrival, these seeds found their home in the temple grounds of Kyoto Prefecture (京都府), which served as the residence of the Kamakura Shogun (鎌倉将軍) at the time. During this period, matcha production remained highly restricted, rendering it a symbol of luxury esteemed for its medicinal attributes, particularly by Zen monks and samurai (侍) in their meditative rituals. 

Subsequently, as the practice of tea ceremony became more widespread, the integral role of matcha in Japanese culture and its embodiment of Japanese hospitality was established. 

 

The Cultivation of Matcha and Health Benefits

Matcha is made of tencha tea leavesMatcha powder is made from a type of shade-grown tea leaves, also known as tencha. | ©PhotoAC

The production of matcha green tea powder involves shading shade-grown tea leaves known as tencha (碾茶), typically for a minimum of 20 days, to enhance chlorophyll content and l-theanine production. This imparts matcha with its vibrant green colour and rich umami flavour, believed to have calming and invigorating effects, enhancing concentration and sleep quality. 

After the shading period, the leaves are harvested, steamed, and dried before being finely ground into powder. This process retains nutrients and antioxidants, providing numerous health benefits, including anti-aging properties and aiding in preventing arteriosclerosis, making matcha immensely popular globally, especially among women.

 

The Different Grades of Matcha

Japanese Matcha Green Tea powderMatcha is generally being classified into three different grades based on a variety of factors. | ©Adobe Stock

Matcha powder is graded based on several criteria, including its texture, aroma, flavour, and colour. Distinctions in origin also play a significant role in its classification due to varying regional grading systems and factors like climate, soil composition, and other variables that influence tea quality. 

Generally, the highest grades of matcha come from the youngest tea leaves or the earliest harvests, prized for their tenderness, vibrant colours, and robust flavour. Conversely, lower grades present a gentler flavour profile while still maintaining their delightful taste. 

 


Overall, matcha is categorised into three main grades:

 

1. Ceremonial Grade Matcha

Ceremonial grade matcha is the highest grade of Japanese matcha tea powderThe ceremonial grade matcha utilizes the youngest leaves of the first harvests, granting its velvety and delicate texture fitting for a Japanese tea ceremony. | ©PhotoAC

Matcha of the highest grade originates from meticulously nurtured buds and leaves of ichibancha (一番茶) or the first harvests. This grade undergoes meticulous processing to ensure the freshest, most delicate, and smoothest ground matcha. Recognisable by its vibrant green hue and silky smooth texture, ceremonial grade matcha is intended to be savoured on its own, without any additional sweeteners or additives, allowing its pure flavour to be fully appreciated.

 

2. Culinary Grade Matcha

Culinary grade matcha is used for matcha desserts and matcha latteNibancha is usually used for the culinary grade matcha, which is perfect for creating beverages such as matcha lattes. | ©Adobe Stock

Possessing a bolder, more assertive flavour allowing it to complement other ingredients it is combined with, culinary grade matcha typically originates from nibancha (二番茶) or second harvest tea leaves. This grade may incorporate ground leaves with remaining stems and veins, resulting in a duller shade of green compared to ceremonial grade matcha. It might also encompass a blend of matcha powders sourced from multiple origins. Despite this, it maintains its characteristic colour as well as its rich and distinctive flavour, making it ideal for blended creations like lattes or cocktails. 

 

3. Ingredient Grade Matcha

Ingredient grade matcha is a budget friendly optionMixed with older tea leaves, the ingredient grade matcha’s thick consistency and strong flavour is perfect for making recipes that contain dairy products such as ice cream. | ©Adobe Stock

Lastly, typically crafted from tea leaves harvested later in the season, this grade of matcha exhibits a more yellowish hue and a distinctively bitter green tea flavour. Positioned as the most budget-friendly option amongst matcha powders, it finds optimal use as an ingredient in food manufacturing or supplements.

While all three grades of matcha boast comparable nutritional profiles, ceremonial grade matcha notably contains elevated levels of l-theanine and caffeine, aiding in energy and focus. Conversely, alternative grades tend to feature higher antioxidant and catechin content. To truly appreciate the nuances, indulge in a personal sensory exploration and discover your favourite matcha grade!

 

Top 3 Matcha Producing Regions in Japan

As the foremost producer of matcha globally, Japan is renowned for producing high-quality matcha powder throughout the nation, excluding only the northern areas of the country. Delight in exceptional varieties offered by the different regions not only to satiate your palate but also to delve into the rich historical and cultural significance embodied in their unique flavours and aromas.

Let’s take a look at some of the top matcha regions in Japan!

 

1. Uji, Kyoto Prefecture

Byodoin Temple in Uji, KyotoKnown as the birthplace of matcha, Uji is also famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Byodoin Temple, which was built during the late Heian Period. | ©PhotoAC

Recognised as the birthplace of matcha, Uji City (宇治市), situated in the southern region of Kyoto, stands as one of the foremost areas for matcha cultivation. Renowned as the pinnacle grade of matcha in Japan, Uji matcha is celebrated for its lush aroma and sweet, creamy flavour, accompanied by a subtle bitter undertone. This distinctive profile is attributed to the geographical conditions of its cultivation, benefitting from scorching summers and frosty winters, which create an optimal climate for harvesting the highest quality green tea leaves.

With a tea cultivation legacy tracing back to the 12th century, when Eisai brought tea seeds and the technique for crafting powdered green tea to Kyoto, it is only natural for Uji to emerge as the birthplace of Japanese tea ceremonies. By the mid-14th century, the ritual of daily tea consumption was firmly entrenched, and Uji matcha had attained prestige, and was considered a premium gift served at tea ceremonies hosted by the royal family. Even today, Uji matcha remains highly sought after by tea connoisseurs worldwide.

 

2. Nishio, Aichi Prefecture

Nishio City in Aichi PrefectureKnown for being the only city in Japan specialising in matcha production, Nishio City also boasts its rich history in its magnificently well preserved castle ruins dating back to the Kamakura Period. | ©PhotoAC

Renowned as the second-largest matcha producing hub, Nishio City (西尾市) in Aichi Prefecture (愛知県) contributes to 30% of Japan's matcha production. It boasts a reputation for delivering some of the finest matcha, celebrated for its full-bodied, umami-filled, and velvety flavour profile. As opposed to other matcha-producing regions, Nishio sets itself apart by dedicating over 97% of its tea leaves exclusively to the production of pure matcha or premium matcha-based Japanese confections.

With an illustrious matcha cultivation history spanning nearly 800 years, Nishio matcha flourishes under the warm climate and fertile soil along the banks of the Yahagi River. Similar to Uji, it is said that the seeds of tea were introduced to Nishio in the 13th century by Seiichikokushi, a Buddhist monk, who planted them within the grounds of Jisso-ji Temple (実相寺). It wasn't until the Meiji Period that matcha production in Nishio surged, following the importation of tea seeds and production techniques from Uji in Kyoto. 

 

3. Kagoshima Prefecture

Tea fields in Kagoshima, KyushuThe climate and soils of Kagoshima Prefecture ensures the absolute best quality of its organic tencha, adapting to shifting global demands and creating a new age for matcha. | ©PhotoAC

Situated on the southern island of Kyushu (九州), Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県) ranks second only to Shizuoka Prefecture as Japan's largest green tea producing region. What sets it apart is its innovative approach to producing single-origin matcha, essentially organic matcha. The region's active volcanic terrain, nutrient-rich soils, warm climate, and ample rainfall create optimal conditions for the thriving cultivation of tencha, the tea leaves from which matcha is derived.

Breaking from tradition, Kagoshima's farmers employ innovative techniques and concepts to meet the surging global demand for healthfoods, resulting in the production of robust, bold matcha with a full-bodied yet subtly astringent taste, indicative of the region's fertile soils and favourable geography. Leveraging on its expansive flat terrains, Kagoshima Prefecture stands at the forefront of single-origin matcha production, a rarity in Kyoto Prefecture due to the latter's climatic constraints.

 

Discover the World of Matcha with JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Matcha powder is made from green tea leavesThe possibilities with matcha are endless! | ©PhotoAC

Standing as a cherished symbol of Japanese tea culture, matcha has captivated the palates of a worldwide audience. Whether enjoying ceremonial grade matcha in Uji City or savouring matcha desserts made with Nishio matcha, Japanese matcha tells a story of tradition, innovation, and the artistry of tea cultivation.

 

Enjoy a box full of matcha and green tea snacks this May 2024 with JAPAN RAIL CLUB!

Craving for matcha? Delve into the magnificent world of matcha with a tea-themed snack box from Japan! JAPAN RAIL CLUB is delighted to introduce the May 2024 edition of our monthly Omiyage Snack Box, “So Much Matcha”, featuring an enticing selection of snacks made with matcha from Uji and Nishio, along with gyokuro (a premium grade of green tea) from Kyotanabe! 

Plus, subscribe by 31 May 2024 and use promo code MAYCHA15 at checkout to enjoy a 15% discount and save up to $80 when you opt for the 12-month plan. Before embarking on your matcha pilgrimage to Japan, unwind and savour our matcha-licious snacks in the comfort of your home!

Meet the author

Dawn Sim

An avid lover of nature, photography, and Japanese literature, you will find Dawn (@oyakodawn) either lost in the midst of a historical pilgrimage route or in any local book cafes from the north all the way to the south of Japan. Dawn has lived in Kyoto for a year and still can’t get enough of its cultural and historical richness - not to mention the hipster cafes that serve to satisfy their coffee addiction!

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春暖花開:櫻花之外的六種當季花卉

賞花的樂趣之一,就是它們轉瞬即逝的特性:花期每季只有幾天,但那短暫幾天卻難忘極了。來看看六種春天當季花卉,以及賞花最佳時機!

Spring Beginnings: 6 Seasonal Flowers Other Than Sakura
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Seasonal Flowers Other Tha...

Flowers herald the beginning of spring, and in Japan, no flower is more synonymous with spring than the beloved cherry blossom (桜 sakura). However, other than these pretty, pink blossoms,...

Carissa Loh Nature

Spring Beginnings: 6 Seasonal Flowers Other Tha...

Flowers herald the beginning of spring, and in Japan, no flower is more synonymous with...

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in April and May
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in A...

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are flowers symbolic of spring, often alluded to the promise of a new beginning in many Japanese literature. | Photo by Dawn Sim   A symbol...

Dawn Sim Spring

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in A...

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are flowers symbolic of spring, often alluded to the promise of...

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in Japan
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in J...

Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other than the mesmerising cherry blossoms painting the landscape, spring is the best season to experience...

Wendy Ng Food

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in J...

Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other...

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festivals in Japan
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festival...

Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)   Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing with it beautiful flowers, comfortable temperatures, and a time of celebration. While most travellers head...

Carissa Loh Festival

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festival...

Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)   Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing...

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in Japan
Sue Lynn

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in ...

Matsue Castle in spring. | Photo by 島根県観光連盟 Japan, a nation celebrated for its rich history and enduring cultural heritage, is particularly famous for its magnificent Japanese castles (お城 oshiro)....

Carissa Loh Culture

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in ...

Matsue Castle in spring. | Photo by 島根県観光連盟 Japan, a nation celebrated for its rich...

Sakura Karinto and Marui Suzuki
Sue Lynn

Maker’s Story: Seasonal Karinto Snacks from Tok...

April marks the official arrival of spring in Japan, and one of the cherished traditions of celebrating this season is to enjoy “ohanami” (お花見)! Ohanami means “flower-viewing”, and this is...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

Maker’s Story: Seasonal Karinto Snacks from Tok...

April marks the official arrival of spring in Japan, and one of the cherished traditions...

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blossom Viewing Spots in Northeast Japan
Sue Lynn

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blosso...

Hirosaki Castle Park | Photo by Aomori Prefecture Cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) herald the start of springtime in Japan. Spring is the prettiest and most enjoyable season with radiant...

Wendy Ng Spring

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blosso...

Hirosaki Castle Park | Photo by Aomori Prefecture Cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) herald the...

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of Shochu Distilleries in Miyazaki
Sue Lynn

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of S...

Shochu (焼酎) is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Japan and the Japanese drink more shochu than sake. Considered to be Japan's national spirit, Shochu is gaining great...

Wendy Ng

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of S...

Shochu (焼酎) is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Japan and the Japanese...

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultural Icons
Sue Lynn

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultura...

Statues of the Namahage located in Oga Peninsula. | Photo by PhotoAC Steeped in tradition, Tohoku (東北), the northeastern part of Japan comprising of six prefectures – Aomori (青森), Akita...

Dawn Sim Culture

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultura...

Statues of the Namahage located in Oga Peninsula. | Photo by PhotoAC Steeped in tradition,...

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from Northeast Japan
Sue Lynn

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from North...

Japan is a food paradise and beyond the major cities and well-trodden travel routes, you can unearth more culinary treasures spread throughout the country if you venture into the less...

Wendy Ng Food

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from North...

Japan is a food paradise and beyond the major cities and well-trodden travel routes, you...

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots in Tokyo for Ohanami
Sue Lynn

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots ...

If you have visited Tokyo between late March and early April, then chances are you have witnessed the enchanting sight of cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) in full bloom. A cherry...

Carissa Loh Culture

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots ...

If you have visited Tokyo between late March and early April, then chances are you...

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from Tohoku
Sue Lynn

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from ...

Located on the north-eastern part of mainland Japan, Tohoku (東北) is made up of six prefectures, and is a treasure trove of beautiful nature and fascinating history. It’s a wonderful...

Carissa Loh Food

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from ...

Located on the north-eastern part of mainland Japan, Tohoku (東北) is made up of six...

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souvenir & Gift-Giving Culture
Sue Lynn

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souven...

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably seen the colourful and beautifully packaged boxes of local confectionery filling the gift shops along...

Carissa Loh Culture

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souven...

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably...

March Maker's Story: Hand-grilled Rice Crackers from Akita by Kanaeya
Sue Lynn

March Maker's Story: Hand-grilled Rice Crackers...

The Tohoku Region is home to some of Japan’s best untouched nature. Take Akita as an example, a prefecture where lush landscapes meet premium rice fields. Renowned for its exceptional...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

March Maker's Story: Hand-grilled Rice Crackers...

The Tohoku Region is home to some of Japan’s best untouched nature. Take Akita as...

March Maker’s Story: Obuse Chestnut Snacks from Takachiho (Winner of JR East Omiyage Grand Prix 2023 - Koshin’etsu Area Prize)
Sue Lynn

March Maker’s Story: Obuse Chestnut Snacks from...

If you have been to Japan, you will understand the universal struggle of finding the perfect souvenir or omiyage (お土産) to bring home for your loved ones and colleagues. While...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

March Maker’s Story: Obuse Chestnut Snacks from...

If you have been to Japan, you will understand the universal struggle of finding the...

Hina Matsuri (3 March): Japan’s Spring Festival Celebrating Girls’ Day
Sue Lynn

Hina Matsuri (3 March): Japan’s Spring Festival...

Displaying exquisitely made hina-ningyo dressed in traditional Heian attire is the main activity associated with the Hina Matsuri | ©photoAC Have you ever heard of Japan’s Hina Matsuri (雛祭)? Otherwise known...

Dawn Sim Culture

Hina Matsuri (3 March): Japan’s Spring Festival...

Displaying exquisitely made hina-ningyo dressed in traditional Heian attire is the main activity associated with the...

Inspired by Izu: Exploring Izu Peninsula Through The Eyes of Japanese Writers
Sue Lynn

Inspired by Izu: Exploring Izu Peninsula Throug...

If you are a fan of Japanese literature, take a walk in the footsteps of literary giants and look no further than Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島), which lies just about 1-2...

Dawn Sim Travel

Inspired by Izu: Exploring Izu Peninsula Throug...

If you are a fan of Japanese literature, take a walk in the footsteps of...

Mount Fuji with tea plantation in the foreground
Sue Lynn

Mount Fuji Day (23 February): 5 Ways to Enjoy J...

Standing at 3,776m above sea level, the almost perfectly symmetrical Mount Fuji (富士山 Fujisan) is Japan’s highest mountain, and has become a symbol of the country, recognised worldwide for its...

Carissa Loh Travel

Mount Fuji Day (23 February): 5 Ways to Enjoy J...

Standing at 3,776m above sea level, the almost perfectly symmetrical Mount Fuji (富士山 Fujisan) is...

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in Japan to Meet Feline Friends
Sue Lynn

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in J...

Are you a cat (猫 neko) lover? If you’ve been to Japan, you might have noticed how beloved cats are over there. Think maneki-neko (招き猫) cat figurines that beckon luck,...

Carissa Loh Culture

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in J...

Are you a cat (猫 neko) lover? If you’ve been to Japan, you might have...

In the Mood for Love: Romancing on Valentine’s Day in Japan
Sue Lynn

In the Mood for Love: Romancing on Valentine’s ...

Love is in the air in February with Valentine’s Day! On 14 February, Valentine’s Day is universally celebrated across the globe where presents like chocolates, candies, and flowers are gifted...

Wendy Ng Culture

In the Mood for Love: Romancing on Valentine’s ...

Love is in the air in February with Valentine’s Day! On 14 February, Valentine’s Day...

Romance Izu in the Air: 5 Romantic Spots in the Izu Peninsula
Sue Lynn

Romance Izu in the Air: 5 Romantic Spots in the...

With so many captivating attractions, you can spend days exploring the Izu Peninsula with your loved one, but where to start? Here are our top five picks for romantic dating...

Carissa Loh Travel

Romance Izu in the Air: 5 Romantic Spots in the...

With so many captivating attractions, you can spend days exploring the Izu Peninsula with your...

A Side Trip to Saitama: Discovering “Little Edo”, Cafes, and the Railway Museum
Sue Lynn

A Side Trip to Saitama: Discovering “Little Edo...

Located just about half an hour north of Central Tokyo, Ōmiya Station (大宮駅 Ōmiya-eki) is the gateway to the neighbouring Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県). It is also a stop on more...

JAPANKURU Travel

A Side Trip to Saitama: Discovering “Little Edo...

Located just about half an hour north of Central Tokyo, Ōmiya Station (大宮駅 Ōmiya-eki) is...

February Maker’s Story: Shizuoka-grown Wasabi by Kameya Foods
Sue Lynn

February Maker’s Story: Shizuoka-grown Wasabi b...

Are you familiar with wasabi (わさび)? Made from the Wasabia japonica plant, wasabi or the Japanese horseradish is a unique spice native to Japan and is a staple in Japanese...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

February Maker’s Story: Shizuoka-grown Wasabi b...

Are you familiar with wasabi (わさび)? Made from the Wasabia japonica plant, wasabi or the...

Winter Wonderland: 7 Snowiest Cities in Japan and Must-do Activities
Sue Lynn

Winter Wonderland: 7 Snowiest Cities in Japan a...

Winter season in Japan boasts some of its most amazing and picturesque sceneries, especially in regions lying alongside the Sea of Japan (日本海), otherwise known as Yukiguni (雪国), or Snow...

Dawn Sim Festival

Winter Wonderland: 7 Snowiest Cities in Japan a...

Winter season in Japan boasts some of its most amazing and picturesque sceneries, especially in...

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to Enjoy in Japan
Sue Lynn

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to ...

Winter in Japan is not just a season to enjoy snow activities and festivals; it’s also a time to indulge in winter cuisine as Japan is blessed with bountiful harvest...

Wendy Ng Food

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to ...

Winter in Japan is not just a season to enjoy snow activities and festivals; it’s...